As Americans nationwide prepare to fork over Uncle Sam’s pound of flesh, 55 percent of respondents questioned in a Gallup poll report that their level of taxation is fair. This is the lowest percentage Gallup has measured since 2001.
The results are based on Gallup’s Economy and Personal Finance poll, conducted April 4-7, and annually since 2001. The recent high in Americans’ perceptions that their taxes were fair, 64%, came in 2003, after President Bush signed tax cuts into law and weeks after the Iraq war began.
Gallup’s history of asking this question stretches back to the 1940s. From 1943 through 1945, during World War II, few Americans complained about their taxes, with an average of 87% of Americans saying their taxes were fair. That dropped down to an average of 61% in 1946, the first year after the war.
Gallup resurrected the question in the late 1990s, when an average 48% said their income taxes were fair, including the historical low of 45% in 1999. Americans’ views of their taxes as fair improved from 51% in 2001 to 58% in 2002, shortly after the Bush administration put into place a round of tax cuts.
Perceptions of income tax fairness, perhaps surprisingly, vary little by household income level. Fifty-seven percent of those whose annual household income level is below $75,000 say their taxes are fair, as do 54% of those whose income is $75,000 or above.
While 70 percent of self-identified “liberals” believe their 2012 tax bill was fair, only 45 percent of self-identified conservatives agreed.
The gaps by party and ideology have expanded modestly since President Barack Obama took office. In 2008, the last full year of the Bush administration, 67% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans said their taxes were fair, a gap of 12 percentage points, compared with 17 points today. In 2003, the recent high point in Americans’ belief that they pay fair taxes, there were essentially no party differences (66% among Democrats, 62% among Republicans).
Thus, the decline in Americans’ belief that their taxes are fair is due mostly to Republicans’ changing views. Taxes have been at the forefront of much of the debate over economic and budgetary policy in recent years, although, in reality, federal income taxes have not changed for most Americans since Obama took office, because the president has preserved the Bush-era income tax cuts for all but the highest-income Americans.
On a related note, the White House last week released President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s tax returns. According to the White House, the Obamas paid $112,214 in federal income taxes on adjusted gross income of $608,611 — an effective tax rate of 18.4%.
In 2011, the Obamas paid an effective rate of 20.5%.